Kids on vegan diets have better heart health but growth risks, study finds

A child eats a vegetable soup on January 24, 2013 in Lyon, central France. (Photo by PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP via Getty Images)

A new study finds that children on a vegan diet have better heart health and less body fat than their omnivorous peers, but their diets could affect growth, bone mineral content, and micronutrient status.

Researchers from University College London Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health and Children’s Memorial Health Institute in Warsaw, Poland presented their Peer review results on Thursday. It was also published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, according to the group.

Between 2014 and 2016, 187 5- to 10-year-olds were recruited in Poland for the study. Of these, 63 children were vegetarians, 52 vegans and 72 omnivores. The researchers collected data on growth, body composition, cardiovascular risk, and micronutrient status in vegetarian or vegan children and compared them to the group of children who consumed meat in their diet.

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Researchers found that vegan children “were on average 3 cm shorter, had a 4-6% lower bone mineral content, and were more than three times more likely to be vitamin B-12 deficient than omnivores”.

“At the same time, they also had a 25% lower level of low-density lipoproteins (LDL) – the unhealthy form of cholesterol and a lower level of body fat,” according to the study.

“We found that vegans had higher nutrient intake, suggesting an ‘unprocessed’ type of plant-based diet, which in turn is linked to lower body fat and a better cardiovascular risk profile,” said Dr. Małgorzata Desmond from UCL. “On the other hand, their lower intake of protein, calcium, and vitamins B12 and D may explain their less favorable bone mineral and serum vitamin concentrations.”

The study also found that children on a vegetarian diet had a lower risk of nutritional deficiencies compared to other omnivores, but a less healthy cardiovascular profile.

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“We were initially surprised by the poor cardiovascular health profile of the vegetarian children, but their nutritional data showed that they ate a relatively processed type of plant-based diet with less healthy fiber and sugar compared to the vegans,” the doctor said. “So we are learning that just a plant-based diet is not a guarantee of health. We still have to choose healthy foods.”

The team said that extra vitamin B12 and vitamin D are still needed on a plant-based diet and that more needs to be done to raise awareness among families with vegetarian and vegan children.

This story was told from Los Angeles.

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